Traditional weddings: Who is responsible for the death of ‘Ugusaba’ cultural norms?

IT IS FAIR enough to say that there’s no better time to get married than the festive season. This is justified by the concluded festive season which ushered in all kinds of dreamy weddings that jammed Kigali like traffic jam would.
Gusaba should not just be a fancy event but a chance to learn about our culture. The New Times/ T. Kisambira
Gusaba should not just be a fancy event but a chance to learn about our culture. The New Times/ T. Kisambira

IT IS FAIR enough to say that there’s no better time to get married than the festive season. This is justified by the concluded festive season which ushered in all kinds of dreamy weddings that jammed Kigali like traffic jam would.

During the festive season, every day I run up and down, looking for different kinds of suits to wear and honour the bulky wedding and introduction invitation cards littered on my dining table.

When I finally get to the function, I enjoy them by chatting with a friend or relative most of the time. On some other occasions, however, I just sit back and wonder – with all this modern rush to get married and to get over with the traditional weddings, how many of the newlyweds today actually understand why things are done the way they are done?

With this question in mind, I decided to ask one of the elders to describe for me how traditional wedding introductions still find meaning in today’s era.

Fiona Nkuranga, 62, says that today, traditional ceremonies, which are locally known as “Ugusaba”, are symbolic of shame and disgrace.

“It’s shameful to always see girls who don’t know anything at their introductions and every now and then, they turn their heads to look at their mothers to instruct them on what to do next.”

“Even then, she just does it without asking or even trying to know what it means,” Nkuranga said with traces of sadness on her face.

She paused a while, as if pitying the sky, and then continued: “The people getting introduced are just being led sheepishly and do everything for formality. They don’t even want to learn anything about our culture.”

Nkuranga added that back in the day, the most important part of marriage was the “Ugusaba”, because it is when the girl’s and boy’s families came together as one to learn more about each other’s history. Through these functions, the community would recognise the newlyweds and be able to support them in their marriage in all times, especially the bad times.

 “Today, Ugusaba is about coming and meeting and talking aimlessly, then after a few minutes they drink and eat and walk out without anyone paying attention to any detail,” Nkuranga added.

She continued: “It is sad just how bad the culture of respecting this ceremony is on its last legs.”

While I sat back and tried to digest her tough words, Nkuranga suddenly flung in another conspicuous topic.

“Sometimes the lady is already pregnant or has children with the man. So then what is the man coming to beg for since he already has her? Events today don’t make sense and people act as if they are very fine with it and support everything blindly. It’s just sad,” she said.

After this serious talk, I went on to ask another elderly gentleman what he thinks has been left out of Ugusaba.

Paul Rugondo, 71, a father of six girls, says that the value of cows at Ugusaba has dropped to almost nothing.

He said: “You attend an introduction and when time comes to show the cows, the DJ plays the sound of a mowing cow. This is unacceptable!” He was about to continue, then he quickly cursed in Kinyarwanda.

“The joy of a girl’s father is to see the cows that have been handed to him. Unfortunately for him, he gets ripped off. All he gets these days are stupid sounds of a cow blaring from loud speakers,” he said.

“It’s unbelievable how much things have lost value. I will never support traditional ceremonies of these days unless they follow the normal procedures that we followed.”

Shortly after, everyone else I asked about what they thought about Ugusaba seemed to get into a bad mood.

Their unison message was that this traditional ceremony has moved from bad to worse. It’s not respected and has been abused.

I decided to go hunting for solutions and in my search; I got in touch with Pastor Ezra Mpyisi, a 91-year-old renowned strong advocate of cultural norms.

“Yes, it is true the “Ugusaba” has lost its cultural and traditional touch but who is to blame? Partly it’s the parents because unlike those days when a girl would be trained by her mother for days before Ugusaba, today no one does that. So how do you expect things not to change?” he asked.

He added: “If we want to maintain the culture of traditional ceremonies then we should open a school for them.”

He is of the view that in order to get back the real Ugusaba that had meaning, then the country must educate this generation.

“Things are changing and changing for the worst, whatever people are doing in Ugusaba doesn’t have meaning anymore. It is a mixture of today’s norms and our traditional norms and it just doesn’t make sense, even the gifts they give out today are just out of ignorance,” he concluded.

Lauren Makuza, the director of cultural promotion in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, admits that culture is changing from time to time, a fact that cannot be controlled.

“There’s a lot of change because of different factors like religion and modernity. Some traditional introductions omit the activity known as Imisango where the girl’s family requests for information about the groom’s family.”

 “Some religions discourage it because lots of lies are traded during this function, so they prefer to leave it out. We strongly encourage that some key elements should be retained in Ugusaba because without them, culture is lost,” he said.

He added that the cultural ritual of “Gutwikurura” (loosely translated as unveiling the couples matrimonial home), is commonly done on the day of the wedding unlike in previous times when it was done a little bit at a later date after marriage.

“It doesn’t give meaning to the event because it was supposed to be done a week after the bride has stayed with her groom. Then it has more meaning but many want to do it even before the bride steps in the house but we discourage it,” he said.

He also went on to encourage Rwandans to be modest during preparations for marriage functions and keep the events simple, nice and in line with Rwandan beliefs.

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